A Wonderful Film: The African Queen
August 9, 2017 2:29pm CST
German East African in the year 1914. The opening scene shows a tiny hamlet of straw covered mud huts. The only stone building is the Methodist church in which the English missionary Rev. Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) is conducting the singing of the native congregation while his sister Rose (Katherine Hepburn) is mauling the reed organ. The service is interrupted when a small steamboat, the African Queen, lands and its captain, the Canadian Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) comes to the church. His task is to supply the villages along the river with whatever is necessary. He brings newspapers and letters and this time also the news that there is a war going on in Europe. He doesn’t know much more than that England is involved and the Germans, who are the Enemy, are in the country and may come to this hamlet, too. This happens indeed a short time after his departure. The Germans burn down the huts, drive away the blacks, and leave the Reverend and his sister alone in the smouldering ruins. The Reverend becomes mad and dies delirious so that Rose is the only living soul on the site. Back comes Charlie. He digs a grave, buries the Reverend and takes Rose with him. What else can he do? The film is about Charlie and Rose floating down the river full of dangerous rapids. It‘s watched over by a Germans fort, and - as if that weren’t enough - the lake into which the river flows is controlled by a German man-of-war. Charlie knows that they haven’t got a chance. Rose, naïve but stubborn, thinks there is one. The film was shot in Africa. In 1951, when the film was released, people weren’t flooded with wild life documentaries on TV and certainly loved the film also for photos of big game. It’s an adventure film and also a patriotic one but it’s really a character film. Charlie is about fifty, Rose may be ten years younger. They’re as different from each other as can be. Greater contrasts are not imaginable. Director John Huston found adequate actors in Humphrey Bogart (who won his only Oscar for his role of Charlie Allnut) and Catherine Hepburn. Bogart plays Charlie as an easy-going jack-of-all-trades, a loner who isn’t used to and doesn’t care much about the subtleties of civilisation, outspoken when necessary. “Well, I ain't sorry for you no more, ya crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!“. The American (!) Katharine Hepburn is the prototypical English spinster, well-bred, proper and elaborate. When they’ve overcome a rapid, Rose exclaims, “I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating.” How these two learn to stand each other and eventually love each other dearly is heart-warming and a pleasure to watch. Something else is pleasing although not intended and that is a technical aspect. After all the film is 68 years old. When the river is running smoothly, the actors are seen sitting in the boat and the scene is shot in wide angle from either the bank or another boat. But when the situation becomes dangerous, they’re not in the boat but very clearly in a studio. Close up views of the actors’ faces fill the screen and the river is foaming somewhere in the background. The film takes us back to the kindergarten days of filming tricks. Highly recommended!
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